Friday, September 30, 2011

Brotherhood of Satan, The (1970)

... aka: Come in Children

Directed by:
Bernard McEveety

I was expecting another mediocre 70s Satanism movie (thanks to the middling reviews this often receives) and instead got a invigorating, thoroughly entertaining, visually beautiful and sometimes even surreal take on the subgenre that's full of small and unexpected surprises. While it may crib ideas from such varied sources as VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960) and ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), this manages to differentiate itself - in both story and presenation - and finds its own unique tone in the process. It's also expertly paced, has some very interesting art direction and vivid lighting and boasts a smart, nicely-layered script that immediately starts building intrigue through ambiguity before revealing too much of the actual plot. Things begin with a perplexing sequence of a toy tank, followed by a real tank rolling over a car and crushing an entire family. Well, aside from a little boy, who miraculously manages to walk away from the wreckage completely unscathed to join some other blank-faced children.

Vacationing engineer Ben (Charles Bateman), a widower from California, along with his young daughter K.T. (Geri Reischl) and girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri) are driving through the desert when they pick up strange static over the radio. They stumble upon the crushed car and the bloody remains of the people inside, and then drive off for help. Upon arriving in the small town called Hillsboro, the family encounters an uncooperative cop who doesn't seem the least bit interested in the accident and are immediately chased away by a mob of armed, crazed townspeople. They get in the car, take off and end up swerving and crashing to avoid hitting a little girl who seems to materialize out of thin air in the middle of the road. Now they have no choice but to head back to Hillsboro to find a mechanic. Before they do, we bear witness to a strange scene of a possessed doll using supernatural powers to kill a couple. Afterward, the couple's children wander off the join the same children who appeared at the accident site.

Ben, Nicky and K.T. finally end up getting some information about the strange events that have been unfolding in Hillsboro. Prior to their arrival, twenty-six people had been slaughtered in just 72 hours, and nearly every child between the ages of 6 and 9 have disappeared. Even stranger, some kind of malevolent supernatural force has kept anyone from entering or leaving the town for three whole days. Well, with the sole exception of Ben and company. As we later learn, there's a shortage of little girls of the appropriate age in the area... and eventually K.T. is among the missing children. Ben and Nicky set out to discover just what in the hell (pun intended) is going on. They're joined by the genial town physician Doc Duncan (Strother Martin), the frustrated Sheriff Pete (L.Q. Jones) and his deputy Tobey (Alvy Moore), as well as a priest (Charles Knox Robinson), who is doubted by everyone at the beginning and then ends up going a little crazy after witnessing a decapitation. I'm not going to reveal much more about the plot aside from mentioning it involves soul transference and a "circle of thirteen" devil cult.

If this had been made in any country other than the United States, it would be praised for its highly stylized and colorful lighting and amazing art direction. In fact, I strongly suspected that Dario Argento saw this movie before he made his critically-acclaimed SUSPIRIA (1977). The two not only share basic plot similarities but also feature a surprisingly similar color pallette and very abstract production design. Brotherhood also boasts one of the strangest children's parties I've seen (complete with a hooded Satanist delivering some black-and-red cake), plus has a long, artsy and truly bizarre nightmare sequence and other memorable moments. The ending is also unexpected and excellent.

It was produced by co-stars Jones and Moore. The DVD (a handsome print) is available through Columbia TriStar.


Curtains (1982)

Directed by:
"Jonathan Styker" (Richard Ciupka)

Here's yet another Canadian entry in the early 80s slasher cycle. It's from the same producer of PROM NIGHT (1980) and is less famous than most others in its subgenre, such as TERROR TRAIN (1979) or MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981). The production history was a troubled one. Curtains actually began filming in 1980, but production was shut down for upwards of a year. One of the main roles was recast, there were numerous re-shoots and the completed film (which certainly shows all the tell-tale signs of its checkered past) wasn't even released in 1983. The reviews were dismal, the producer claims to have filmed at least half of the movie sans credit and the director opted to have his name removed from the credits (and replaced by the name of the film's fictitious director character 'Jonathan Stryker'). Everything opens somewhat promisingly. Famous actress Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar) is set to star as a madwoman in a thriller called Audra. Director and frequent collaborator Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon) brings her into an insane asylum, where she promptly attacks him with a knife, is restrained and put in a straight jacket by the hospital staff. Turns out that Samantha and Jonathan has just faked everything so she can be locked away and 'research' her upcoming role. However, Jonathan decides to just leave Samantha in the nuthouse and cast someone else as Audra.

A casting call is placed in Variety and Jonathan narrows down the possible leads to six actresses, who are summoned to a remote, snowbound mansion for an extended period of time to try out for the role. Amongst the candidates for the high-profile gig are wisecracking, pot-smoking stand-up comedienne Patti O'Connor (Lynne Griffin, from the superior Canadian slasher BLACK CHRISTMAS), fragile dancer Laurian Summers (Anne Ditchburn) and naive champion figure skater Christie Burns (Lesleh Donaldson, from FUNERAL HOME). There's also miserable, desperate veteran actress Brooke Parsons (Linda Thorson, who was best known for replacing Diana Rigg on the last few seasons of The Avengers), who's been hitting the bottle a little too hard recently and claims she "would kill for the part," and magazine centerfold Tara DeMillo ("Sandra Warren" aka Sandee Currie, from the aforementioned Terror Train), who's not above using her feminine wiles to secure the role. The sixth actress, Amanda (Deborah Burgess), is getting bored of acting out rape and pizza delivery boy fantasies with her boyfriend. Good thing for her some psycho sneaks into her apartment and stabs her to death before she even has a chance to make it to Stryker's audition. Meanwhile, Samantha has managed to escape from the mental institution with help from her friend.

Stryker (who seems most interested in bedding the hopefuls than actually casting the movie), an already-cast lead actor (Michael Wincott), the five remaining actresses and Samantha (who shows up presumably to either fight for the role of Audra - after all she was the one who purchased the rights to it - or get revenge on Stryker) end up stranded at the mansion after a bad snow storm. A killer decked out in a wrinkly old lady mask and stringy wig begins bumping them off one by one. Naturally, there are no shortage of suspects, as basically everyone has a possible reason to either trim the competition or ruin the production before it can actually begin.

Most of the actors are talented, the killer's mask is pretty creepy-looking and there are a handful of effective scenes; including the asylum scenes with Eggar (aside from several visible boom mic shots) and a great sequence on an ice rink where the killer skates toward one of his/her victims brandishing a scythe. There's also a chase scene inside a room full of movie props which lasts a whopping twelve minutes if you're into that kind of thing. Otherwise, this is a tame, middling, dreary film with mediocre writing and pacing issues. Very slow-moving for the duration of its runtime, this starts getting a bit chaotic toward the end. In recent years, many slasher fans have elevated this to classic status (possibly because of its obscurity for several decades and belated release to DVD), but I can't say that I personally agree. It's watchable, with some good moments sprinkled throughout, but ultimately nothing special. I'd still like to see a better quality version and will reevaluate it if I do. Maury Chaykin and Kate Lynch (the stars of DEF-CON 4) have small roles.

Trivia Note: Future Playboy Playmate of the Year, late night cable soft-core queen and Mrs. Gene Simmons, Shannon Tweed, provided some brief topless body doubling.

The DVD I watched (which was a poor, dark transfer from a VHS source) was released by Echo Bridge Home Entertainment. It's contained on their release "The Midnight Horror Collection: Bloody Slashers" and is paired on one disc with HOBOKEN HOLLOW (2005), SECRETS OF THE CLOWN (2007) and ROOM 33 (2009).


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